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Four men were given the task: invent a festival you want to go to yourself. That became TREK, a mishmash of food trucks, mayor and pastor.

Photos Harri Theirlynck

You have to be a serious misanthrope not to have a good time in Stadspark Maastricht that Friday. The sun is shining. It is subtropically warm with a light spring breeze. The location, next to a pond embraced by ramparts and turrets, is perfect. Under the old oaks, some 40 food trucks and bars with simmering kitchens await you. Oh yes, not unimportant: entry to Festival TREK is free. The first introduction to TREK does not involve a barista or meat master but an insanely blessing priest in front of his own little church. Circumventing that, we walk into the arms of the man hired for all the theatrical displays on the grounds: Adam Boutiche, the 'final boss' of Duece, Events and Entertainment.

More than just food

Boutiche is a man with heavy eyebrows and square jaws, dressed in striped puff trousers with braces and in for any joke. Adam: 'My colleagues and I provide theatre, music and acts on the premises. This is about more than just food.' At TREK, the reverse adage of Eighties poet Willem Kloos rules: 'Food and drink is nice, but you have to add some art to it.' It is tempting to put theatre and music festival De Parade and Festival TREK side by side. De Parade started in 1990 with pure theatre and gradually dressed it up with eateries, limos and cocktails.

'For fun'

Festival TREK turned it around five years ago. Foodtrucks and good food took centre stage but something more needed to be added, TREK's founding fathers thought. Michiel Marcelis, Emile Faulborn, Raymon van Sprang and Brecht van Breukelen collaborated on the RTL 4 Summer Festival in Zwolle five years ago. That attracted a large audience with a line-up of big artists such as Racoon, Andre Hazes and Marco Borsato. In a 'side garden', they put together the four only food trucks avant la lettre. Just for fun. Raymon van Sprang: 'That concept actually did amazingly well without the support of big artists, people loved it.'

'It had to be a family'

Michiel Marcelis, Emile Faulborn, Raymon van Sprang and Brecht van Breukelen

The four men got together with the assignment: invent a festival you would like to go to yourself. Raymon van Sprang: 'That became TREK. The basis was food trucks. But embedded in a village with its own mayor, town hall, church and café. It had to become a kind of family.' Five successful years later, TREK bills itself as Festival Trek, Music, Theatre and Fun. And small below that: Food, Trucks & Drinks.

'As long as it's not at the expense of the food'

Ronald chills with sister-in-law Charlotte, her husband Jim and baby daughter Isabelle on a pile of cushions in the sun. Big bulging cocktail glasses in front of them, they are visibly delighted. Ronald has lived in Maastricht for 20 years and is visiting TREK for the third time this year. 'For the food and the relaxed enjoyment. I love food and the mix of dings around it.' How does he feel about theatre? Ronald: 'As long as it doesn't come at the expense of the food I think it's fine. You notice that every year there is more for children, which is nice. You see a lot of family with children in the late afternoon and early evening.'

'Preuvenemint with hipsters

Jim: 'There is more and more interaction with the public. And every year you see different foodcars.' Ronald: 'Every year, I make special space in my calendar for TREK.' He compares TREK to the Foodhallen in Amsterdam. 'This is the mobile version. It's like a picnic. Everyone sits down on a rug in the grass after a while.'

Maastricht resident Ronald has a great description for TREK: 'It's the Preuvenemint with hipsters.' Maastricht's Preuvenemint is a large food festival that has been taking place on the Vrijthof Square in August since 1981. Thirty restaurateurs present special dishes and wines there. Ronald: 'Here it's the carts with hipsters.'

An almost casual mishmash

TREK looks like an almost casual mishmash as you enter the grounds in late afternoon. Your bag is checked. You pay no entrance fee. An industrious prelate gives you the wet blessing.

There is a beer bar and a (still) silent wine bar. In front of the Record Bus, a dancer spins her laps alone. Immediately catching our eye is the Lighthouse Bar, an almost natural meeting point; as much a symbol as the Fountain Bar on the Parade. For the first time we bump into TREK's ever-smiling Mayor (with the R for 'citizen'), we will meet the hyperactive man four more times.

A productive word: 'pull'

By the pond, four giant letters form the word TREK. The name is definitely a find. 'Trek' is called a 'productive word' in linguistics. It easily lends itself to countless jokes and puns. We heard them all that Friday: from 'I have big appetite', 'I can't take it anymore' and 'I find you fat attractive' to 'I feel jerked off, I'm going home'.

Dining offerings coast all corners

Further back, the collection of food trucks comes into full swing. In total, there are 38 food trucks, six different types of bars and a legion of set pieces on the grounds, such as the 'town hall' cum theatre, the nostalgic caterpillar, the TREK letters, the little church, a pyramid made of wooden blocks on which you sit and clamber, table football games and the fires lit in the evening. The food and drink offerings coast all corners of the culinary universe: burgers, falafel, poffertjes, Vietnamese, tapas, waffles, paella, pokebowl, oysters, coconuts pastry, 'Fritez', gin-tonic, water cocktails, wine and beer. Raymon van Sprang: 'We match the choice of food trucks to the destination. Yes, there is more demand than supply so we can select sharply.'

'Hot dogs get you to the blue bus'

New at TREK Maastricht are Just Say Cheese (fondue, croquettes or nachos), Joeri Tandoeri with - of course - charcoal-fired clay ovens ('Joeri travelled to India a few years ago to perfect his recipes and techniques'), tapas at Ès-Tante, including skate and monkfish cheeks, from a big red fire engine and Chez Jan with 'the best hot dogs in the Netherlands'. 'These hot dogs'. says TREK's mayor on his Facebook page, 'get them from the dark blue bus!' Needless to say, at TREK, conviviality beats the clock.

As dusk falls, things get busy and TREK starts mooing like a fire. The letters and coloured lights come on, the fires by the pond are lit.

A bit of Woodstock

On the lawn in front of the big stage in the back, it becomes a bit Woodstock. Visitors lie on rugs they brought with them, enjoying food, music and small theatre acts. Or they dance as if under electricity. The low string light lingers in the big bunches of hair of Erwin Duijsings, friend Giulia Baiocchi from Lucca (It) and Zies ('that should do'), the three of them on a rug.

Why are you here? Erwin: 'Well, the nice park, good food, drinks, atmosphere... In the evening, a DJ comes, I like that.' Erwin is working on a book about the philosophy of everyday life, an overall vision, he says. 'That's where this fits in.' Zies plays bored, a fag of weed in the corner of his mouth. 'I like it, lots of food.' Whether we can send the picture though.

Grip on TREK

We are slowly getting a grip on TREK. At the front of the site, near the Lighthouse bar, oysters and wine bar terrace, the enjoyers are seated. At the head of the grounds, it's party and dancing to 70s and 80s music. In between, you'll find families and children's games. Debby and Sandra, Limburg women who have a carefree drink about them, pull us up by the sleeve. 'Can we have our picture taken?' Sandra comes for her cousin from Maastricht, who is at TREK with his local band. They think it's a great festival.

'Fatheads'

But Sandra warns: 'Do you know our Preuvenemint? Watch out that this doesn't go that way, that TREK also becomes a festival for fatheads (Sandra sticks out her tongue, to underline disgust). Beware, soon it will become posh and expensive, it must remain spontaneous and messy.'

Dyan, 'The Wicked Gambler', also a member of Adam's Duece team, does some card tricks near the stage. The dancing girl is called Norn, she calls herself 'an all-round entertainer'. Maarten, a redhead with beard, does acting and theatre. He reveals the method: 'We do things with people in a small circle, boxing, a quiz, costume parties. But look at Maarten: a whole wide circle of people live along from a distance. The concept, eating with theatre, works. You can't eat and drink all day.'

We smell commerce

For the first time, we smell commerce. At the Watercocktailbar, a fresh and sparkling establishment, we bump into Freek van Noortwijk, a pretty boy with the text 'The water runs in your mouth' on his apron. Freek (29) is a chef and co-owner of four restaurants in Amsterdam, a judge at Masterchef and, as Katja Schuurman's fiancée, also a Dutch celebrity. 'I am the chief ambassador of Chaudfontaine,' says Freek. 'That belongs to Coca-Cola, from the Lighthouse bar.' Just, TREK's inescapable BurgeRmeester (the R comes from 'citizen') explains. 'Sponsors are needed. We want them to present themselves very casually and unobtrusively. Coca-cola only has a nostalgic wall at the Lighthouse Bar.'

Local theatre talent at TREK

Mayor Just has been with TREK from the start. 'A village needs a mayor. In the beginning I had a room, which became a house, which is now also a theatre. At every TREK, we involve local theatre talent, which can be humour, slapstick, singer-songwrite, dance or circus. Visitors love local talent. They perform outside or in the theatre tent, very briefly. We charge 2.50 admission for that. The finalists of Kunstbende Limburg will perform here tomorrow, part of a national festival.'

The back of the embroidery cloth

It's time for the back of the beautiful TREK embroidery rug. That is located on a makeshift little campsite behind some screens in a corner of the grounds. A caravan and some meagre tents form the nerve centre of the festival. There, half the management team of Four Entertainment, seasoned summer festival builders responsible for TREK, Wine and Special Beer Festival, Live on the Beach and International Fireworks Festival Scheveningen, among others, reside. Michiel Marcelis and Raymon van Sprang are the managing partners in attendance. Raymon: 'Five years back, we made the big leap without a sponsor. There was no real food truck festival back then, only Rollende Keukens. We added more and more entertainment and a lot of nostalgic music, for the feel.'

The millionth visitor

Every position on the TREK site has been carefully considered. Raymon: 'Standard is the Record Bus at the front, with 70s and 80s music. In the middle is the Tractor DJ with blues and swing in the tailgate. The Live Stage is in the back. Yes, dancing is allowed on the wooden decking, the summer garden idea.' The target age group is 25 to 45, children are welcome, they will be counted on. They get a wristband with their parents' mobile number, in case they get lost.

'In two editions we will reach the millionth visitor,' says Michiel. 'It works, this festival formula of food and experience.' In Maastricht, they count on 40,000 visitors in total over four days. Never more than 4,000 together at one time: 'Then it will be ten out and ten in at the entrance, it mustn't get too busy. The waiting time at the trucks should be maximum 20 minutes, after that people get annoyed.' 'Michel: 'We guard the concept with our lives. Not too many big sponsors and certainly not prominent. Our appearance must remain cosy, the family feeling must prevail.'

What will TREK look like in three years' time? Raymon: 'The same, but we'll keep expanding. This year we added the pyramid, and the wine terrace. We will never charge an entrance fee, TREK has to remain low-threshold.'

Surprised by the rugs

Not everything can be foreseen. The TREK management was surprised by the rugs. 'Visitors suddenly took rugs and sat on the grass, between food trucks and stage. Yes, we thought. That's how it should be, The Day in the Park idea.' Outside the fences (specially lined with reeds, to make them look friendly), the atmosphere waltzes on for a while in the streets of Maastricht, with that blessed dialect, as if every resident here is in a continuous state of pleasantly-acceptable tipsy.

Good to know Good to know

INFORMATION Festival TREK, in its 5th season this year, is the largest travelling food festival in the Netherlands. The
touring 3- or 4-day summer festival will visit nine cities in 2018: Rotterdam, Utrecht, Maastricht, Nijmegen, Enschede, Eindhoven, 's-Hertogenbosch, Amsterdam and The Hague. See festival-trek.nl

Courtesy of Designhotel Maastricht, Stationsstraat 40. Designhotel Maastricht is located in the trendy Wyck district, a 10-minute walk from the city centre and Stadspark. The stylish hotel is connected to the adjacent Brasserie FLO for breakfast and astronomical French dinners. 2pk from € 90. See designhotelmaastricht.com 

 

Harri Theirlynck

Freelance (travel) journalist. Graduated cum laude in Dutch language and literature from Radboud University Nijmegen. Worked as a teacher, comedian and science journalist. Then successively became editor-in-chief of (ANWB) Kampioen, NU De Tijd van je Leven and REIZEN Magazine (ANWB Media). Since 2013, freelancer for Pikas Media, REIZEN Magazine (ANWB), Kampioen, TravMagazine, Djoser, de Telegraaf, Blendle and Arts & Auto, among others. Teacher of (travel) journalism at Fontys University of Applied Sciences. Provides training courses in creative & business writing and travel journalism.View Author posts

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